It is always sad to see a flyer stapled to a signpost or on
a bulletin board at the grocery store with a picture of a
lost Snuggles or Scruffy. You imagine a child waiting for
the phone to ring, hoping that some kind person happens to
find his kitty and see his flyer. Sadly, once a pet is lost,
the odds are against her finding her way home again.
According to the American Humane Association, only about
seventeen percent of lost dogs and two percent of cats ever
find their way back from shelters to their original owners.
Almost 20 million pets are euthanized every year because
their owners cannot be found. There are ways to beat these
odds though, and they are a little higher-tech than the
nametag and collar you are used to. To give your pet the
best chance to be identified, no matter how far he roams,
have him implanted with a microchip.
Tags and collars are a good start—they are certainly better
than no ID at all—but they are not 100 percent dependable.
Tags can fade, rust, or get scratched and be impossible to
read. Collars can tear or slip off, or even worse, get
caught on something while your pet is wandering in the
wilderness and hurt or kill him. With microchipping, on the
other hand, a veterinarian injects a tiny computer
chip—about the size of a grain of rice—just under your pet's
skin, between the shoulder blades. Then the number on the
computer chip is entered in an international database, like
the Central Animal Registry or PETtrac. If your dog or cat
is found, any animal hospital, shelter, or humane society
can use a microchip reader to read the unique ID number
contained on the chip. The veterinarian or worker then calls
the database, or accesses it on the computer, and enters the
number given off by the microchip. The database matches the
number to your name and phone number. The chip cannot be
lost or damaged, and it lasts for the pet's lifetime.
The microchip is
convenient, safe, and reliable, but it still is not as
popular in the US as it is in Canada and Great Britain.
Though many veterinarians and animal shelters are actively
working to inform their clients about microchipping, there
are still a number of myths keeping pet owners from
microchipping their pets.
The implantation procedure is too expensive.
While the price can vary from one veterinarian to another,
it often falls between $25 and $40. A lot of veterinarians
will charge even less if they perform the implantation at
the same time as another procedure, like spaying, neutering,
or dental work. It is a one-time fee; the chip never needs
maintenance or replacement. There may be a fee, generally
under $20, to enter your pet's ID number in a database, and
there may be a small fee for changing your address, phone
number, or other contact information in the database. Still,
microchip identification is cheaper than making flyers,
calling around town, and taking time off work to find a lost
is going to hurt my pet to get the chip implanted.
The procedure is simple, routine, and painless, and it does
not require any anesthesia. Your pet simply gets an
injection just under the loose skin between the shoulder
blades; it is a lot like getting vaccinated. Most animals do
not react at all.
They could not possibly give every pet with a microchip a
unique number. My pet's number will be duplicated.
The way technology works today, these tiny microchips can
hold huge amounts of information. In fact, the microchips
are designed to produce 275 billion different identification
numbers. On top of that, manufacturers add unique product
codes and manufacturer's codes to identify their chips. With
all the possible combinations of product codes and ID
numbers, there are more than enough numbers to make sure
every pet has a completely unique number.
Most shelters and veterinarians do not have microchip
readers, so they will not be able to identify my pet.
It is true that a microchip will not work to identify your
pet unless your pet comes in contact with a microchip
reader, and there are some shelters and veterinarians in the
US that do not have readers yet. (In Canada, almost all the
animal control services and veterinarians have readers.) But
the three main microchip manufacturers offer microchip
readers to humane societies, shelters, and veterinarians for
free or for a small fee. Until recently, each brand of
microchip could only be read by its own brand of microchip
reader. Recently, though, universal readers that will read
several brands of microchips have been made available to the
shelter community. Ask your veterinarian, you are nearby
humane society or shelter, or the animal control department
in your area whether they have microchip readers readily
available. If not, encourage them to get the readers. Of
course, to be sure your pets will be returned to you, you
should identify them as many ways as you can, with a tag, a
microchip, and even a tattoo.
Eventually, the microchip will wear out and I will have to
have it replaced.
The chip does not have an internal battery or power source.
Most of the time it is inactive. When the microchip reader
is passed over it, it gets enough power from the reader to
transmit the pet's ID number. Since there's no battery and
no moving parts, there's nothing to wear out or replace. The
microchip will last throughout your pet's lifetime.
cat never goes outside. She does not need to have a
It is wonderful that you are keeping your pet safe
inside, but a guest or a repair person could easily leave
the door hanging open, or a screen could come loose from an
open window. Unaltered pets in particular will take any
chance to roam. There is a possibility that your house could
be damaged in heavy storm, flood, or other natural disaster,
causing your cat to run away in fear. Pets can even be
stolen-particularly birds and exotic or purebred animals. No
matter how closely you watch your favorite animal friend,
there is always a chance she could get out, and if she does
not have any ID, it will be extremely hard to find her.
myth: If someone else ever
tries to claim my pet, the microchip ID number will not hold
up in court.
This issue has not actually come up in a court of law yet.
However, a microchip ID number is unique, it cannot be
changed, and it links a pet to its owner through an
international database. It works a lot like the serial
numbers that link vehicles, stereos, TV sets, and other
valuable possessions to their owners. The American and
Canadian Kennel Clubs have recognized microchipping as
definitive proof of a dog's identity and ownership, and
accept microchip identification to register purebred dogs.
If you own a very valuable pet, or if you are afraid there
might be a question about who has custody of your pet,
microchip identification could be a big help.
The myth: It
is not safe for my dog to have a foreign object inside his
Veterinarians have been implanting microchips in animals for
years, and the process has been proven to be very safe. The
chip is made out of an inert, biocompatible substance, which
means it will not cause an allergic reaction in your furry
friend, and it will not degenerate over time. The first
versions of the microchip would sometimes migrate from where
they were injected, but manufacturers now design the chips
with anti-migrating properties. When they are implanted
properly, today's chips will not migrate. Once they are in
place, they will not move around or get near any delicate
tissues or organs. You can help make sure the microchip
heals securely by keeping your pet calm and quiet for the 24
hours following injection. Because the microchip is placed
just under the skin and not internally, microchip reading is
completely safe as well.
Microchipping is safe, effective, durable, and dependable,
but it cannot absolutely guarantee that a lost pet will be
found. The best way to keep your pet safe is to use more
than one form of identification. Microchips are long lasting
and a wonderful means of identification, but there is a
chance a shelter will not have a reader, so a tattoo would
be an effective backup form of identification. If kind
strangers find your dog in the street, on the other hand,
they will not have a reader handy to check for a microchip
and will not know where to call to match an animal’s tattoo
to an owner. A tag with your name and address would let them
bring your pet right back to your door. Another possibility
would be a tag that informs readers that your pet has been
microchipped and/or tattooed and gives them the number to
call to reach the ID number database. There’s always the
possibility that one kind of identification could fail, but
if your pet has two or three kinds of ID, there’s a good
chance that at least one will help bring her home to you.
Talk to your veterinarian about the best types of
identification for your pet.
In a perfect world, leashes, fences, and doors would be
enough to keep your pet safe at home. In the real world,
accidents happen, and your pet depends on you to protect her
against the things that could go wrong. With a little effort
now, you can take a big step toward ensuring that your furry
friend will be with you in the future.